Over the years I've tried a number of blogging services, but only Wordpress and Blogger with any seriousness. Roughly a year ago I made the decision to try a few static site generators. In hindsight, this proved to be a bold decision. This post will chronicle some aspects of this journey.
I take a relatively optimistic view of the Web, particularly as a vehicle for information. When I was exposed to it for the first time many years ago I did what many technically inclined individuals did: create ugly websites using pure HTML. Some of these were more niche than others, but usually the batch contained some version of a personal home page for yours truly.
Wordcraft, digital archives, and content ownership are all long-standing interests of mine, whence my desire to create an online journal that I had some measure of control over. Since my writing often includes a fair bit of mathematics, my needs are not necessarily served by existing solutions such as Medium.
Wordpress and Blogger
One of my favorite mathematicians, Terry Tao writes a popular blog on research mathematics. It is powered by Wordpress, so when I decided to write about more math related topics, I first tried Wordpress. I found its rendering of LaTeX to be poor, and quickly ditched it in favor of Google's Blogger around 2012.
After spending some time configuring MathJax to work with Blogger, I had a functional but already dated looking site. While my experience with Blogger proved satisfactory, the editing process itself was not to my liking. Indeed, at the time many Google products had somewhat arcane user interfaces. Moreover, I wanted my writing to be in a more portable format. Enter the static site generators.
Static Site Generators
A static site generator typically takes content written in a minimally stylized format (such as Markdown) and produces a collection of organized HTML files that consitute the site. The site is static, in that pages are not dynamically generated when someone visits.
To say that there are many static site generators is a bit of an understatement. One of the most popular is Jekyll, written in Ruby. It's tight integration with GitHub Pages makes it extremely popular.
The first static site generator I explored in any depth was Hakyll, partially because it served as an excuse to learn some Haskell. By utilizing the DSL provided by Hakyll, you effectively create your own static site generator. Since Hakyll uses the Haskell document converter Pandoc, which handles LaTeX in markdown fairly well, I was eager to try it out. After looking for inspiration from a few Hakyll-generated sites, I ended up with a basic setup that automatically deployed itself with CircleCI.
Shortly after getting a basic Hakyll site with MathJax support up and running, I decided to check out Hugo, written in Go. My desire was partly sparked by the fact that at this point much of my work-related programming was in Go. With Hugo it is easy to initialize a basic site and apply themes. The chance to easily apply nice looking themes intrigued me, so I spent some time fiddling with a Hugo configuration for my site.
Since I need my site to support MathJax, many of the pre-built themes for Hugo did not really fit my needs. Moreover, my personality is such that I like to tinker and configure, perhaps to the point of distraction. I ended up investing a considerable amount of time creating the Hugo Morphism theme that, despite the work, produces a very minimalist blog.
The maintenance costs associated with personalized configurations and projects are very real. These costs are exacerbated further by the fact that I am not, nor pretend to be, very adept at web development. Fortunatelly, Hugo lets you do quite a bit with a little CSS, and HTML has come a long way since the days of my first site.
So here we stand today. A statically generated site powered by a pretty good site generator and a custom theme. Much of the time I would have otherwise spent writing I have spent creating the Morphism theme. I suspect it is relatively stable, but this depends somewhat on my desire to try new Hugo features. In any case, I hope to write anew with a greater frequency.